Selfless Harrellson proving a good fit for UK

UK big man dishing out senior leadership

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 2, 2010 

Josh Harrellson, center, is averaging 5.2 points and 8.8 rebounds, an upgrade from 1.3 points and 1.2 boards last season.

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF

After Kentucky routed his team Tuesday night, Boston University Coach Patrick Chambers sounded like the president of the Josh Harrellson fan club.

"I love that kid," he said after UK's 91-57 victory. "He does everything that you want a center or a big man to do."

Harrellson posted a double-double against the Terriers with 12 points and 11 rebounds. And if you recall the only other double-double in Harrellson's career, you too must belong to the fan club (12 points and 10 rebounds against West Virginia in Las Vegas on Nov. 29, 2008).

But it wasn't mere numbers that Chambers admired.

"He plays ball screens great, he rebounds, he blocks shots," the Boston coach said. "He's the mother hen out there. You hear him talking the whole time. He covers for everybody. If there's a blow-by, he's right there making good plays, good decisions."

Harrellson, who grew up hunting and fishing in St. Charles, Mo., knows about rural life and mother hens.

"Raise eggs," the senior forward said, "and watch over all the chickens."

It is a role Harrellson embraces.

"I can take the freshmen under my wing," he said, smiling as he recognized his unintended pun. "You might want to use that one," he advised reporters before returning to the topic at hand.

"I can take the freshmen and show them the right way and lead by example."

Doing what you're capable of and avoiding the improbable is the essence of smart play. So earlier this young season, UK Coach John Calipari set the bar low for his two-headed center combination. If Harrellson and backup Eloy Vargas could average a double-double together, that would be sufficient.

"Me and Eloy can do that," Harrellson said earlier this week. "That's easy."

Statistics aside, the role Kentucky asks Harrellson and Vargas to play does not easily fit into a box score.

"Well, if he does the things that he's capable of doing, he's going to score some points and get some rebounds," UK assistant coach John Robic said, throwing Harrellson a (chicken?) bone. "I mean, he's going to be a screener, a rebounder, a 'garbage man' down low."

Harrellson and Vargas lack the low-post skills of last season's killer combination of DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, Robic said. But there's a fine, if unheralded, tradition of quality contributions open to them in setting screens and providing help defense.

"Just having presence," said Clark Kellogg, the analyst who will work the CBS telecast of Kentucky's game at North Carolina on Saturday. "Keeping balls alive. Clogging up the lane on defense. Setting screens. Carving out space in the paint and getting a couple of hustle baskets."

It's the kind of play that coaches, especially, appreciate.

"It's huge," Kellogg said. "Those guys are invaluable. Every good team usually has one or two guys who do that kind of work in the paint area."

Kellogg noted the emergence of Brian Zoubek as a key contributor in Duke's run to a national championship last season.

Zoubek, a 7-foot-1 senior, averaged 5.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 18.7 minutes. Modest numbers that hid what Kellogg termed "a huge, huge asset as Duke made their run."

The New Jersey Nets invited Zoubek to their pre-season camp. He's returned to Durham, N.C., for treatment of a back injury while considering offers to play in Russia, Turkey, Spain or Greece.

Harrellson said he had no role model for his selfless role.

"I just look at it as what am I going to do to make my teammates better," he said. "What can I do to make my team successful because I know I'm not going to go for 30 (points) every night."

Perhaps because it's more gender correct, Harrellson warmed more toward garbage man than mother hen as a description of his role.

"Call me whatever you want," he said. "It's just a role I'm taking to heart. Being a defender and offensive rebounder and put-backs. I'm not really worried about post-ups or getting (the offense run) through me rather than Terrence (Jones) or Brandon (Knight)."

Toward that end, Harrellson ventured into uncharted territory against Boston U. He attempted to take a charge for the first time.

"Coach Cal said just do one," he said. "I tried. I went (down) a little early. But hopefully we'll fix it. When people hit me, I don't, like, move. I'm, like, too big to fall. I guess I'm going to have to lean on my heels so when they do hit me I fall over."

If Harrellson masters the theatrics required in taking charges, he will have another tool at his disposal.

"He's perfect for this team because he really doesn't need the basketball," Chambers said. "He doesn't demand it. ... He's bought into what Coach Cal wants. That's important. You need 10 guys buying in. One guy out, you'll notice that on the floor."

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